University of Kansas

How Quentin Grimes responded to Bill Self’s halftime challenge on Saturday

Ocahai Agbaji, Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot on KU’s 84-72 win over OSU

KU basketball players Ocahai Agbaji, Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot on their 84-72 win over Oklahoma State Saturday Feb. 9, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.
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KU basketball players Ocahai Agbaji, Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot on their 84-72 win over Oklahoma State Saturday Feb. 9, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

We all probably make too big a deal of coach’s halftime talks. Normally.

Perhaps the one during Kansas’ 84-72 victory over Oklahoma State, though, could end up being an important moment for this Jayhawks team as it looks to steady itself for a run at the Big 12 title.

KU should have been up six points at halftime — or at least Kansas coach Bill Self thought that way on the team’s sideline.

Instead, two mistakes turned it into a tie game. Twice, while getting back in transition, Quentin Grimes failed to pay enough attention to sharpshooters Thomas Dziagwa and Lindy Waters, giving them enough space to knock down open shots.

Self was furious, screaming out his anger. It was a message that evidently continued in the halftime locker room.

“Call it like it is, he wasn’t good at all the first half,” Self said of Grimes. “I think he got mad at halftime particularly with one individual.”

That person, in case it’s not clear, was Self.

“He just told Quentin to play harder,” Lawson said of the mid-game challenge. “I think his man hit two threes, and Coach told him, ‘Scouting report.’”

It was an appropriate time for a wake-up call. Grimes’ complete line from the first half: 14 minutes, 0-for-1 shooting, zero points, zero assists, 2 turnovers, zero blocks, zero steals. There also was a moment of frustration on the bench following the eight-minute-mark media timeout, with Grimes and Self bickering back and forth a few seconds.

Self only pushed the top-10 recruit harder during intermission.

“He played a little angry, I think, second half compared to the first half,” Self said. “That was probably good for him.”

And it could potentially be great for the Jayhawks if it helps them get better results moving forward.

Through all KU’s ups and downs, injuries and departures, one fact remains just as true as it was two months ago: The team’s future ceiling hinges most on how Grimes plays.

Self will repeat an important point as well: This isn’t just about making shots.

Sure, with Lagerald Vick gone, it would be helpful if both Grimes and Ochai Agbaji stepped into the roles of consistent perimeter threats they have shown themselves to be at times this season.

For Grimes, though, it’s more about what else he can provide on the court. And to borrow a phrase Self likes to use often, it’s all about “plugging himself into a game” more often.

Grimes has all the physical tools. He’s 6-foot-5 with a solid frame. He can dribble, pass, shoot and also slide defensively.

None of that matters, though, when he plays with the passivity fans have seen from most of this season.

It’s why his season stat line makes almost no sense. How can a guy with his type of athleticism not grab more rebounds? Or how can a prospect with his length have fewer than 10 steals in 600 minutes?

Self has remained patient with Grimes — starting him in each of KU’s 24 games — but his public frustration has been more noticeable lately. That included the coach speaking about how KU had “a freshman on an island out there” following the Kansas State loss Tuesday when Grimes had six points and five turnovers.

This backdrop is why a couple of second-half plays stood out for Grimes on Saturday.

He was the start of KU’s 12-0 second-half run, putting his hand in the air to call for the ball. After getting it, he faked a pass, made an instinctual basketball play to drive middle against a zone, then had the vision to see the defense collapsing and Agbaji open in the opposite corner.

Overhead pass. Agbaji shot. Three points for KU, and the start of a game-changing stretch.

“He did some good things,” Self said of Grimes, “that should be a springboard for him going into Monday.”

Another one of those came five minutes later. Grimes played to his size when going for an offensive rebound inside, muscling up against Oklahoma State’s Cameron McGriff before drawing a defensive foul call.

A few feet away, Self applauded the sequence.

Grimes’ second-half only stat line was better: six points, 2-for-6 shooting, three rebounds, one assist and two turnovers in 16 minutes. Self also commented to say that the freshman looked like he was playing “freer” then.

“I think he was terrific the second half,” Self said, “as far as activity.”

Another test looms Monday at TCU. KU’s league title hopes were aided by the Horned Frogs’ win over Iowa State on Saturday, but at some point, the Jayhawks are going to have to help themselves by winning road games if they want to make a serious push for consecutive title No. 15.

This would be a good time for Grimes to build on his positives. For a half, he was productive, forcing his impact on the game during a time when KU played its best basketball.

Maybe it was spurred by frustration. Or maybe by a halftime talk that centered on him.

Either way, this much can’t be disputed about Grimes following Saturday’s effort:

Self sure liked him when he was angry.

KU basketball players Ocahai Agbaji, Dedric Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot on their 84-72 win over Oklahoma State Saturday Feb. 9, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.